Portable gaming has always been about bite-sized offering of larger games that are easily accessible and fun to play in short doses. Sony’s handheld has had its ups and downs when it comes to bringing its console powerhouses to the miniature market, but one title that truly set the PSP apart from Nintendo’s DS was Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops. With its short but sweet mission structure and infinitely playable multiplayer modes it quickly became the must-have title for Sony’s portable powerhouse. Roughly a year later Konami has returned to the well to deliver an expansion pack of sorts that will satisfy fans of Portable Ops but not likely fans of the console iterations of Snake and company.
First things first, Portable Ops Plus is not a sequel. In fact this game only carries some of the elements from the original over thus making it feel more like an expansion pack. MGS fans salivating for yet another deep and engaging story need not bother here as Plus is sans any of the quirky storylines found in other titles in the series. Instead Konami has opted to replace the single player experience with Infinity Missions where you and your team will take on missions in randomly generated stages with different goals and objectives similar to the game’s predecessor. Not everything is copy and paste however, as you now have the ability to command up to 200 soldiers and your team cap has been raised from four to eight.
Your units are also broken down into classes with different abilities and skills. Medics will create rations and other items to restore health while Spies will gather intel on maps and enemy soldiers giving you a leg up on the battlefield. You also have a Tech Corp that will design new weapons and ammunition for your final group, known as Soldiers, to use as they take on each mission. All of this is rounded off with the ability to upgrade your attributes upon completion of each objective. Everything from stamina to accuracy can be improved adding a small layer of RPG to the mix. This can be both a good and bad thing. On one hand it is nice to be able to increase your chances of winning, but level up too much and the game becomes a pushover eliminating any enjoyment or required skill.
This also becomes an issue when traversing into the second half of what makes Portable Ops Plus tick; multi-player. Anyone who has played the previous outing knows that one of the reasons Portable Ops was so good was its robust online mode across both ad-hoc as well as infrastructure. Plus continues the trend with a few new additions such as being able to take in-game screenshots and some additional maps and animations, but the core experience remains untouched for the most part. There are a couple of noteworthy new features such as the chat room and a new mode called Shooting Range both of which are welcome, but likely to be dismissed because the original was so good that it seems useless to add anything to distract from it.
One of the biggest draws in the original Portable Ops was the ability to acquire new recruits either by beating another player online or using different WiFi hotspots. The cool thing with scanning for soldiers is that as soon as a unique one showed up he/she joined your party; not so much in Plus. Instead you will get a dialogue sequence where the soldier can decline to join you if they aren’t happy with your squad layout. This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if you knew what they had a problem with, but as with all things Metal Gear their responses can sometimes be enigmatic. You can also bring soldiers from your save file of the original game which means there should be plenty of virtual army men at your disposal just remember that anytime you wage war online you have the ability to lose them, even the unique ones, forever.
Presentation is always where MGS shines and Plus is certainly no different. Using a modified version of the Subsistence engine Plus delivers a visual punch that few other PSP titles can match. Fluid character animation meshed against dark brown tones suit the universe well. There are still some hiccups that were apparent in the previous Portable Ops but nothing game breaking. Plus is also void of any voice acting which is a disappointment but not unexpected. The music has been copy and pasted from Portable Ops which is not a bad thing and the sound effects are stock as well. The saddest omission though is not being able to hear David Hayter spout the infamous line “Metal Gear” in his genuinely raspy voice, as this is one of the traditions I always look forward to in an MGS title.
Portable Ops Plus is the definition of an expansion pack. The budget price will keep gamers feeling satisfied for their twenty bucks and the addition of new maps and options should keep the action fresh. A lack of true single-player does tarnish it a bit but for the price you really shouldn’t expect much. When Konami finally adds a number two to the titles I hope to see the new control scheme from the upcoming MGS 4 integrated as well as the graphical hiccups sorted out, but for now this expansion pack should suffice fans of the series well enough to warrant its petite price tag.